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First Health Informatics master’s in region addresses industry need for ‘Big Data’ analytics

Responding to a changing healthcare industry demanding data expertise, JU’s colleges of Health Sciences and Business have collaborated to create the first health informatics master’s degree in the region, to prepare graduates for the workforce with the most relevant skills to manage successfully.

“This is about bringing a business sensibility to health care needs,” said Dr. Christine Sapienza, Dean of the College of Health Sciences. “[Davis College of Business Dean] Dr. Don Capener and I have partnered our ideas and resources to offer this responsive and flexible degree that emphasizes informatics and analytics.”

Dr. Christine Sapienza
Dr. Christine Sapienza

With a Master of Science in Health Informatics, graduates will have the knowledge and skills for careers in healthcare management, systems development, clinical decision support, database administration and more, for work in hospitals, health systems, health plans, technology vendors and other organizations. The interdisciplinary degree provides graduates with skills in clinical, healthcare and information technology to improve patients’ well-being.

Healthcare has entered an era in which physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals increasingly depend on experts to store, recover and manage medical data. Informatics is a key discipline that gathers and capitalizes on numbers for “just-in-time information that helps solve mysteries with Big Data in real time,” Capener added.

Dr. Don Capener
Dr. Don Capener

JU’s degree will be a hybrid of in-class and online coursework offerings through the College of Health Sciences starting fall 2015, after approval by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Fully online programming is planned for early September, with courses offered every eight weeks.

Many people seeking the degree are eligible candidates already employed in the field looking to sharpen their skills and boost their marketability. Although some background in the areas of information technology is desirable, it is not a requirement for admission to a Health Informatics Master’s degree program. Applications for the first cohort of approximately 15 students are already being accepted, and entry into the program will be selective and competitive.

“This is a field for the inquisitive,” Sapienza said. “If you want to know about the ‘whats’ and the ‘hows’ behind innovation, then sorting data and using it intellectually to answer the right questions is often the key ingredient. How do we more quickly detect illness or know if a patient will become more sick or better depending on a disease or a treatment? Through speed of analysis and organization of data.”

Health informatics is helping clinicians improve quality and delivery of services by heightening patient safety, reducing medication errors, revamping diagnostic and workflow processes, decreasing cost of care and boosting development of personalized medicine and nanomedicine, said Program officials. An example of how health informatics works to create efficiencies while improving patient care is computerized ordering systems used by physicians, which have been critical in saving patients’ lives through the reduction of medication errors and the detection of harmful drug allergies, interactions and adverse dosing events.

Sapienza likened the advances being made in the field to game-changers for healthcare such as germ theory and anesthesia. She noted three major changes revolutionizing the delivery of health care services:

Electronic Health Records (EHRs), providing a secure digital environment in which a patient’s administrative and clinical information is collected and managed. EHRs make the sharing of information between health care professionals more efficient, and patients have easier access to their own information, making them active partners in their care and treatment.

Clinical data analytics, including the collection and use of medical information to identify and measure the quality of medical care or to perform research that compares how different clinical treatments have worked for certain patients. With large amounts of patient information, researchers can identify trends that lead to improved patient care.

Mobile Health, which is cutting the wires on healthcare devices used by both patients and providers. Smartphones and tablets allow providers to monitor and share important medical information with their patients. Patients become active participants in the management of their care by sending clinical data wirelessly.

To learn more about the College of Health Sciences’ Health Informatics master’s degree, visit http://www.ju.edu/chs/ahs/. To apply, contact Ashlea Quitter, Graduate Admissions Officer, at aquitte@ju.edu or (904) 256-7209.